Category Archives: Tells

“Exploiting Poker Tells” Review

[LL] “Following Reading Poker Tells (2012) and Verbal Poker Tells (2014),” Leroy the Lion began, “Zachary Elwood’s third book, Exploiting Poker Tells, came out in 2017 in response to readers’ requests for more examples, which make up the bulk of this book.”

[RR] “Please tell me all about it”, Roderick the Rock requested.

[LL] “Having previously written 666 pages on poker tells, you’d think Elwood would be out of material, but various new tips appear throughout, while discussions on tells with several poker pros add a different perspective. Mostly though, while the two earlier books focused on spotting and deciphering tells, Exploiting Poker Tells tries to show you what to do once you have, with examples from over 130 live poker hands from Elwood’s own play, other players’ recollections, and televised events. No-Limit Hold ‘Em dominates the examples with some Omaha mixed in. The events range from low buyin amateur cash games to $25,000 WPT Championship hands between top pros and cover a wide variety of tells, organized into Pre-Flop, Flop and Turn, and River sections. The Flop and Turn section is about as long as the other two put together not only because it covers two streets but because those streets are more interesting tells-wise. Pre-flop tends to be more straightforward, while the river involves bigger bets but no longer has draws to deal with.

Elwood, who consulted for Amir Lehavot and Max Steinberg during their WSOP Main Event final table runs in 2013 and 2015 respectively, is a former cash game pro who has become the poker tells guy, belatedly replacing Mike Caro a generation later. Even so, he concedes that tells aren’t 100% reliable and usually affect only a few hands per session, less than once per hour, even for an expert like him. Tells are more prevalent in lower stakes games with weaker players and in cash games, where players tend to be more relaxed than in tournaments. The quantity of tells in the book definitely makes it seem like they’re frequently useful, but these have been collected from years worth of play. Actionable tells can sometimes be more frequent if a particular player has a regular, blatant tell though.

Elwood states, ‘An opponent’s behavior should only infrequently sway your decision. For the most part, your decisions should be based on fundamental strategy.’1 He also stresses that most tells are player-specific. In the same exact situation the same tell may mean one thing with one player and the opposite for another, so it’s important to keep track of how each player behaves.

Elwood’s nuggets of wisdom include this river advice: ‘This is a spot where I know I’m calling but I think there can be value in waiting a few seconds and observing an opponent before calling. It’s a chance to observe a player’s behavior when you know you’ll get to see their hand.2

On the other hand, the biggest flaw in some of the sample hands is that Elwood never finds out what his opponent has, so his analysis remains pure speculation. Removing these hands would have increased the overall quality of the book, which is pretty high nevertheless.”

[RR] “I can tell you liked the book.”

[LL] “Yes, but not as much as his first two, which were more organized and thorough. This format can be more educational depending on your learning style, and the material is certainly less dry.

This is really a book where you won’t learn much from highlights or a summary; you really need to go through all of the examples, as there’s something in practically every hand that may be useful to you.”

The last section is a 57-question quiz, which is probably easier to take as an online quiz, since the scoring is done for you. The downside is that for answers you get wrong, you’ll need to look at the answers in the book for the page numbers where the topic is covered (an odd omission for the online quiz). If you don’t have the book, you can still take the quiz, and your score will reveal if you’d benefit from reading it.

Elwood claims that this is his final poker tells book, as he’s shifted focus to videos, which can be a better medium for learning tells. Exploiting Poker Tells, like the other two books in the trilogy, doesn’t have photos (let alone audio or video), which is unfortunate.”

Title Exploiting Poker Tells
Author Zachary Elwood
Year 2017
Skill Level any
Pros Explains how to use tells with many real-life examples. Ends with a long quiz that will reveal whether you need to reread this book (and maybe his earlier ones as well).
Cons Not as educational as his first two books. In several hands, he never finds out what cards his opponent holds, destroying the value of those examples. No pictures or videos to show what the tells look and sound like.
Rating 3.5

Footnotes:

  1. Page 14. “Some inexperienced poker players can have an inflated, unrealistic sense of what is possible with tells. So I want to reiterate: tells are a minor part of plying strong live poker.
  2. Page 173. “You might notice something that may be useful later on. It’s a chance to build a read.”
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“Verbal Poker Tells” Review

[DD] “The second book was also about tells,” Deb the Duchess continued, “specifically Verbal Poker Tells, Zachary Elwood’s sequel to his 2012 Reading Poker Tells.”

[LL] “Actions speak louder than words though”, Leroy the Lion contested.

[DD] “Maybe. But sometimes all you have to work with is what you hear at the table.”

[RR] “Or read in an online chat box”, Roderick the Rock contributed.

[DD] “Not covered in the book but not nearly as common as live table talk anyway.”

[LL] “I’ve had online opponents keep up a running monologue, I concede that was very unusual. I personally almost never typed in the chat box except at the end of an event.”

[RR] “We’re pretty much stuck with live games right for now anyway.”

[DD] “And Elwood does an amazing job with them. He’s spent half a decade collecting enough live examples to get a significant sample size, and then he went through literally hundreds of hours of televised poker to build his database.

For something that has always been more of an art than a science, this book makes a noble effort to sort out the meaningful statements from the meaningless.”

[LL] “Isn’t that what every book on poker tells has tried to do?”

[DD] “Maybe, but even from the beginning, Caro firmly planted the idea that every tell could be real or fake. Elwood presents evidence for what each tell usually means.

In particular, people (yes, even poker players) don’t like to lie. Talk when the pot is small is usually from weaker hands and isn’t as meaningful as talk when the pot is big, which usually comes from stronger hands. Elwood also covers other audio signals like coughs, timing, attitude, and common statements like ‘I’ve got a good hand’, ‘I’ll show you’, and ‘How much is it?'”

[RR] “So, how much is it?”

[DD] “$26.95 list, and I didn’t save much on that. But I thought it was worth the price, since as much as I liked Elwood’s first book, I thought this one was better.”

Title Verbal Poker Tells
Author Zachary Elwood
Year 2014
Skill Level Any
Pros A master’s thesis on tells based on a lot of real-word research.
Cons A fair amount of repetition, especially with some of the televised examples.
Rating 4.5
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“Beyond Tells” Review

[RR] “Did you get any new poker books for Christmas?” Roderick the Rock asked Deb the Duchess.

[DD] “No, but I got myself a few old ones. I like to browse the used book stores, and I find a decent poker book every once in a while.”

[LL] “The poker world moves pretty fast. Are you going to be playing like it’s 1999 tonight?” Leroy the Lion wondered.

[DD] “Better than that… 2005. And the first of the three books I read is about psychology and poker tells, neither of which has changed much recently.”

[RR] “What was the book?”

[DD] “Beyond Tells: Power Poker Psychology. The author, James McKenna, is a psychologist, so he has a different perspective, which is good. Less than half the book is specifically about tells. He spends most of his time psychoanalyzing the various types of personalities and how that effects how they play poker.

The most interesting part of the book is when McKenna divides people psychologically into four quadrants based on Responsiveness and Assertiveness. He splits two of the quadrants into two subtypes, ending up with these six types:

  • The Boss: Reserved and Aggressive
  • System Player: Reserved and Receptive
  • Loner: Very Reserved and Receptive
  • High Roller: Responsive and Aggressive
  • Party Hardy: Very Responsive and Aggressive
  • Hunch Player: Responsive and Receptive

For each of these types, he lists their perception, playing attitude, playing style, strengths, body language, percentage of the U.S. population, needs, traits, preferences, and chips/play space. This was by far my favorite part of the book, although he also splits people two other ways: winners, losers, and nonwinners; and ‘always’, ‘almost’, ‘never’, ‘until’, ‘after’, and ‘over and over’ players.

A few other interesting sections of note:

  • Analysis of fourteen common poker sayings like ‘All in wins again’ (usually true), ‘Deuces never loses’ (usually false), and ‘You won’t be a winner if you don’t leave when you are winning’ (statistically true to maximize your winning sessions, but I’d say it’s bad for your bankroll overall).
  • Analysis of fifteen frequent comments like ‘One more time’ (he says this usually means the player already has a hand, but I don’t agree), ‘I’ll let you have it this time’ (usually when folding a weak hand), and ‘Loose call’ (usually the truth).
  • Comparison of each of Mike Caro’s 25 tells to a pair of contrasting playing styles. Although these tells are referenced throughout the book, this appendix systematically helps explain why each of them can have different meanings.

Although you’ll learn a fair amount about poker tells in this book, the biggest benefit may be in improving your own play by rectifying the weaknesses your game has based on what categories you fall into.

Title Beyond Tells: Power Poker Psychology
Author James A. McKenna, Ph.D.
Year 2005
Skill Level Intermediate+
Pros Some very good nuggets of wisdom, especially the Responsibility/Assertiveness chapter. The sections that aren’t about tells are very good.
Cons Slow build up to provide background. Examples are mostly Seven Card Stud.
Rating 3.0

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Zachary Elwood’s “Reading Poker Tells” Review

[DD] “The final book on tells that I read was the best of the bunch: Reading Poker Tells by Zachary Elwood. Mike Caro’s a poker pro who has written over a dozen books, only one of which was about tells. Joe Navarro was an FBI agent. And Randy Burgess and Carl Baldassarre earn their keep as writers. Elwood, on the other hand, is a poker player who has dedicated himself to studying tells since 2009. And it shows.”

[LL] “Well, it helps that his book is newer”, Leroy the Lion suggested.

[DD] “You’d think Elwood benefitted from having read the published literature, but he doesn’t really build upon what Caro and Navarro. He does occasionally point out spots where he agrees or disagrees with them, often the latter, backed by his own logic and evidence. He also takes some direct swipes at Dan Harrington’s chapter1 on poker tells.”

[LL] “So he isn’t standing on the shoulders of giants?”

[DD] “Not really. He contradicts a lot of Caro’s advice and likes Navarro’s book even less. In Elwood’s very first blog post on his Reading Poker Tells web site, he derided Read ‘Em and Reap as ‘useless’ except for one piece of advice that he later discovered dated back to Caro anyway.”

[DD] “But what I really like is that Elwood’s book is more usefully organized, splitting tells into ‘waiting-for-action’, ‘during-action’, and ‘post-bet’.”

[LL] “That pretty much covers everything… So the same behavior can mean different things at different times?”

[DD] “Yes, they really are three separate situations even when they relate to the same single poker action.”

[LL] “Except when post-bet and waiting-for-action coincide during heads-up action.”

[DD] “He means post-bet behavior that concerns the bet that was just made vs. waiting-for-action behavior when the player hasn’t bet on that street yet. Hopefully you’ll know the difference.”

[LL] “So, what are some of the good tells he describes?”

[DD] “There are so many that you really just need to read the book. In each of the three situations he gives about a dozen examples of weakness and a similar number of strength. A sampling:

  • Waiting-for-action weakness: getting ready to fold, especially in multiway pots, is usually for real, contrary to Caro’s claim.
  • Waiting-for-action strength: pre-loading chips is strong, not weak like Caro says (but then Caro seems to think almost everyone is an actor).
  • During-action weakness: slow check (pretending to be considering betting)
  • During-action strength: very strong betting motion is strong, since a bluffer wouldn’t want to call attention to themselves (again, contradicts Caro). In fact, most unusual during-action behavior is strong for this same reason.
  • Post-bet weakness: stillness, silence, and fake smiles.
  • Post-bet strength: shaking legs (indicated by shirt movement).

[DD] “Reading Poker Tells also has a short section on general verbal tells, but Elwood expands that to a whopping 438 pages in his next book, Verbal Poker Tells.”

[LL] “But you haven’t read that.”

[DD] “No, I don’t have a copy yet… But that’s a hint if you were thinking of getting me a Christmas present.”

Title Reading Poker Tells
Author Zachary Elwood
Year 2012
Skill Level Any
Pros Very well organized and researched. Uses No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em in most examples.
Cons Poor quality pictures.
Rating 4.0 (out of five)

Footnotes:

  1. The 2008 book is titled Harrington on Cash Games, Volume II: How to Play No-Limit Hold ’em Cash Games.
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“Ultimate Guide to Poker Tells” Review

[LL] “How about the Ultimate Guide to Poker Tells, which was published the same year as Navarro’s book?” Leroy the Lion prodded.

[DD] “I liked it just as much, partly because it covered different ground. My favorite section was right near the beginning, where they categorize players into five stages of tells:

  • Stage 1: no concealment of emotions – beginners
  • Stage 2: quiet with monsters but transparent with weakies
  • Stage 3: acting (reverse); most low-limit recreational players never get past this stage
  • Stage 4: minimizing tells – Vulcan poker (Navarro’s advice)
  • Stage 5: read opponents’ tells and give off only subtle reverse tells

[LL] “So now you have a goal beyond becoming a Nava-robot.”

[DD] “Not by much, but yes, for reading tells the co-authors say that exaggerated gestures are probably fake while subtle gestures are probably real. So we should obviously tone down our fake tells.”

[LL] “Doesn’t it matter how observant your opponents are?”

[DD] “Burgess and Baldassarre don’t cover that, but I think that’s important. Just like you need to know how deep your opponents are thinking.”

[LL] “Don’t waste a subtle tell on an opponent who isn’t paying attention to you?”

[DD] “Or maybe saying something may be more effective, since they’ll hear you even if they aren’t looking at you.”

[LL] “What else did you learn from what’s actually in the book?”

[DD] “Like Caro, B&B want you make your baseline assessment of a new player from their appearance. They agree that a messy chip stack means a loose player, but think you shouldn’t read into a neat chip stack anymore.”

[LL] “Because most players do that now as a matter of efficiency?”

[DD] “Something like that. They also disagree with Caro on what a number of tells mean. At least in limit poker, they think grabbing chips early means strength, not weakness, while prematurely starting to fold is weak, not strong (although later on, they say the opposite themselves).”

[LL] “Like a lot of poker, it usually depends on the player!”

[DD] “And the type of poker being played. The authors give long lists of specific tells for Limit Poker, High-Low Split Games, and No-Limit Hold ‘Em. Some great stuff, but unfortunately the real tells are mixed in with reverse tells, so it’s all very confusing.”

[LL] “That certainly doesn’t make it easy to learn.”

[DD] “Fortunately, they do spend on chapter on how to improve your reading ability. Like Navarro, they want you to become more observant. Their advice seems good, even though I hate that they use the terms ‘poker psychic’ and ‘intuition’.”

[LL] “So, you don’t believe in women’s intuition?”

[DD] “I guess it depends on the definition, but to me ‘intuition’ means ‘gut instinct based more on feelings than facts’. Yet B&B go on to tell you to build your ‘poker database’ of observations. Those are facts.”

[LL] “Maybe they didn’t have the guts to try to unravel the complicated deductive process, so they waved their hands and called it ‘intuition’.”

[DD] “Lastly, the book does have a decent chapter on hiding your tells where they recommend Vulcan poker. Sigh. And there’s an interesting bonus chapter on angle shooting,1 which was eye-opening, although I wouldn’t want to play in any game where I had to worry about that stuff.”

Title Ultimate Guide to Poker Tells
Author Randy Burgess and Carl Baldassarre
Year 2006
Skill Level Any
Pros Thorough coverage of tells, including the Stages of Tells and specific tells in various types of games.
Cons Occasional contradictory advice and intermingling of actual and fake tells. Low quality photos.
Rating 3.5 (out of five)

Footnotes:

  1. Angle shooting: the use of questionably legal tactics to one’s advantage. The difference between angle shooting and outright cheating can be razor thin and may even depend on the venue’s specific rules.
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Joe Navarro’s “Read ‘Em and Reap” Review

[DD] “Navarro’s book was the most interesting of the four”, Deb the Duchess opined, “insofar as he’s not much of a poker player but rather a former FBI agent applying career skills from his profession.”

[LL] “Like interrogating suspects?” suggested Leroy the Lion.

[DD] “Yes, but without resorting to torture.”

[LL] “I think that’s more of a CIA thing.”

[DD] “There are non-poker books, some psychology books for example, that can improve your poker. Navarro’s poker book is the opposite; it’ll help you in real life.”

[LL] “To tell when people are lying to you?”

[DD] “Much more than that. Navarro actually trains you to be more observant… even before a single hand of poker has been dealt.”

[LL] “Sure, you need to know how a person normally acts, so you can detect a change in behavior.”

[DD] “You need to establish what he calls their ‘baseline behaviors’: how they sit, where they place their hands, how their face looks, and even how fast they chew their gum.”

[LL] “Most players can’t chew gum and bluff at the same time.”

[DD] “While Caro briefly mentions some unconscious tells, Navarro bases most of his book on them. He believes that the limbic, or mammalian, part of our brains, betrays our emotions before we can stop ourselves a moment later.”

[LL] “So, player’s immediate reactions matter the most?”

[DD] “Exactly. An actor will likely then do the opposite, while other players will freeze and do nothing, a difference Burgess and Baldassarre explore in depth. But that immediate reaction is difficult to suppress.”

[DD] “A threatening board card or an opponent’s bet can invoke one of the three fear responses: freeze, flight, or fight.”

[LL] “Or as Tyrone the Telephone would say, ‘Hold on tight, take to flight, or boldly fight’?”

[DD] “Yep. Stay still like a deer in headlights, physically separate by leaning away, or go on the offensive by glaring at the bettor.”

[LL] “And how would I avoid making these automatic responses myself?”

[DD] “Navarro recommends a robotic approach. Do everything the same way every time: how you arrange your chips, look at your cards, hold your body and hands between actions, push your chips forward, etc. Don’t talk. Heck, don’t even move if you don’t have to.”

[LL] “Phil Ivey must be his favorite player.”

[DD] “But he also advocates wearing a hat and sunglasses.”

[LL] “So he must really dig Phil Laak’s Unabomber look. I’m surprised secret agent man doesn’t tell you to wear a scarf to hide your pulse and a surgeon’s mask to hide your nose and mouth.”

[DD] “Oh, and your feet, which he calls ‘the most honest part of your body’… Don’t tap them, wrap them around the chair legs, or move them at all.”

[LL] “If everyone followed all the advice in this book, poker players would die of boredom.”

[DD] “No, but it would make it more like playing online poker.”

[LL] “Without the chat box. And much slower. Yawn.”

[DD] “Believe it or not, I actually liked the book. Even if I never intend to follow some of his more extreme advice.”

[LL] “That does surprise me.”

[DD] “Well, that was just the section on hiding your own tells. His information about other people’s tells is excellent: Tells of Engagement and Disengagement, High and Low Confidence Tells, Gravity-Defying Tells (which indicate strength), Territorial Tells, and Pacifying Behaviors (which indicate weakness).”

[LL] “For example?”

[DD] “Like these:

  • Engagement: a nose flare indicates the player is going to play the hand (e.g., preflop).
  • Disengagement: unprotecting the cards is weak.
  • High-confidence: steepled hands are strong.
  • Low-confidence: wringing hands is weak.
  • Gravity-defying: raising heels or bouncing feet or legs are strong.
  • Territorial: spreading out is strong.
  • Pacifying: touching the neck or face is weak.”

[LL] “But what if they’re false tells?”

[DD] “He says those will appear ‘stilted or unnatural’. Also, you should note which players are actors so you can just ignore them. In the end though, I think you just need to give much more weight to their initial responses.”

Title Read ‘Em and Reap”
Author Joe Navarro
Year 2006
Skill Level Any
Pros Unique perspective on tells. Focuses on subconscious tells that are difficult to hide.
Cons Many of the tells may be difficult to detect or fake.
Rating 3.5 (out of five)
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“Caro’s Book of Poker Tells” Review

After a tournament in which Leroy the Lion just missed the money and Deb the Duchess just made it, the two friends continue their discussion on tells.

[LL] “So, did you spot any new tells tonight?” Leroy asked.

[DD] “I did, but it definitely took a lot of concentration. It wasn’t easy.”

[LL] “Figaro the Fish is a fount of information.”

[DD] “You said new tells.”

[LL] “And you don’t need any tells to take his chips anyway. He’s very generous.”

[DD] “They say to start by focusing on the loosest player in the game, since you’ll be in the most hands with them.”

[LL] “Carlos the Crazy!”

[DD] “He’s practically straight out of the first book I read, Caro’s Book of Poker Tells.”

[LL] “Everything he does is loud.”

[DD] “Caro has him pegged — his flamboyant personality matches his loose aggressive playing style. And he’s the perfect bad actor.”

[LL] “Strong means weak, and weak means strong.”

[DD] “Precisely what Caro says. Carlos will try to talk you into a call when he’s got the goods and try to get you to fold when he’s bluffing.”

[LL] “Which is most of the time.”

[DD] “Caro lists 58 specific tells in his book, half of which are acting tells, and I’ll bet that crazy guy has most of those. I’ll have to recheck the book to see what I missed.”

[LL] “What are the other half?”

[DD] “Subconscious tells, which Navarro explains much more thoroughly, and general tells, which didn’t seem that useful to me.”

[LL] “But despite the fact that the original material was published before you were born, you still found it useful?”

[DD] “Yes, beginners don’t know to hide their tells, and I guess even some intermediate players like Carlos are able to fool enough people with their acting that they keep doing it.”

[DD] “Caro is a bit repetitive though, which is the only way he was able to fill out a 300+ page book. The 58 tells fall under 25 general Laws of Tells, which he lists both with their specific instances and in a separate chapter. He spends another two chapters on Important Tells Revisited and a Play Along Photo Quiz.”

[LL] “At least all the repetition helped you learn the tells though, right?”

[DD] “I suppose I have to admit that.”

Title Caro’s Book of Poker Tells
Author Mike Caro
Year 2003 (originally published as The Book of Tells in 1984)
Skill Level Any
Pros The original book on poker tells.
Cons Many of the tells no longer apply, except from beginners and some stronger players who like to act. Photos are poor quality.
Rating 3.0 (out of five)
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Tells


[DD] “Leroy, do you think I have any tells?” Deb the Duchess asked.

[LL] “Why would I tell you if I knew?” the Lion countered.

[DD] “Because I have a tell on you that I can trade it for.”

[LL] “Well, in that case…”

[DD] “Do tell.”

[LL] “Your new card protector gave you a tell. You’re actually pretty good about using it all the time, but you vary the position of the protector on your cards.”

[DD] “Ah! I know what you’re going to say. I put the guard closer to the middle of the table when my cards are good.”

[LL] “Exactly. If you think that’s a safer place, then just do it all the time, and you’ll be good to go.”

[DD] “Thanks!”

[LL] “You’re welcome.”

[DD] “Your tell is probably something you already know about, but you still need to fix it.”

[LL] “What’s that?”

[DD] “You’re much too obvious about counting the pot when you’re on a draw.”

[LL] “Agreed. But what can I do about that? I need to know if I’m getting the right odds to call.”

[DD] “The best solution is a bit of work but will have other benefits — keep track of the pot size all the time.”

[LL] “I used to do that a little bit, but when online poker became my main game, I got quite lazy since the total was always right on the screen. I really should get back to doing it.”

[DD] “There is an easier solution though…, just blatantly count the pot occasionally when you’re not on a draw.”

[LL] “Hiding my real tell amid false tells! A bit devious, but I like it. Thanks!”

[DD] “You’re welcome. Fair trade, right?”

[LL] “Absolutely. Why did you bring this up now though? Did you just notice my tell?”

[DD] “Heh, no. I’ve known about it for a while. But I’ve been reading a bunch of books on tells, and they talk about getting rid of your own tells. I thought the best way to find out if I have any tells is just to ask someone observant.”

[LL] “Thanks for the compliment. What books have you been reading?”

[DD] “I’ve read these four so far:”

Year Author[s] Book Rating Summary
2003 Mike Caro Caro’s Book of Poker Tells 3.0 The original poker tells bible [as “The Book of Tells” in 1984]; still has some great advice but many suggestions are dated.
2006 Joe Navarro Read ‘Em and Reap” 3.5 FBI interrogator’s point of view, focusing on the limbic (mammalian) part of the human brain.
2006 Randy Burgess
Carl Baldassarre
Ultimate Guide to Poker Tells 3.5 How to read tells and use them to advantage.
2012 Zachary Elwood Reading Poker Tells 4.0 Well-organized pre-, in-, and post-action tells, mostly using No Limit Hold ‘Em for examples.

[DD] “But the tournament’s about to start, so we’ll have to talk more later…”

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Stan’s Lists – No Limit Hold ‘Em Books

[II] “What’s the next book I should borrow from your poker library, Stan?” Iggy the Improver inquired.

[SS] “I don’t know. Why don’t you decide for yourself?” Stan the Stat countered. “Here’s my list of all the No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em books I own (sorted by level and then rating):”1

Strategy

Skill Level Author[s] Book Year Rating Notes
Beginner Brad Daugherty and Tom McEvoy No-Limit Texas Hold’Em 2004 3.5 Excellent introduction to No Limit Hold ‘Em for new Hold ‘Em players or those coming from Limit Hold ‘Em
Mike Sexton Shuffle Up and Deal 2005 3.0 Includes a basic training DVD and a good history of the World Poker Tour
Tom McEvoy and T.J. Cloutier Championship Hold’em Tournament Hands 2003 3.0 Advice on playing Limit and No Limit Hold ‘Em, especially preflop, plus an excellent collection of important World Series of Poker Main Event hands; see review
Phil Hellmuth Phil Hellmuth’s Texas Hold ‘Em 2009 2.5 More about Limit than No Limit Hold ‘Em; see review
Amarillo Slim Preston Amarillo Slim’s Play Poker to Win 2005 2.5 Sound, basic playing advice (2.0 rating) but worth reading for the stories (3.0); see review.
Lou Krieger The Poker Players Bible 2004 2.5 Decent introduction to Texas Hold ‘Em, Omaha, Omaha Eight or Better, Seven-Card Stud, and Seven-Card Stud Eight or Better, primarily focusing on Limit games; see review.
Phil Gordon and Jonathan Grotenstein Poker: The Real Deal 2004 2.5 Introduction to Hold ‘Em, starting with poker history and mostly covering the Limit version; see review.
Phil Hellmuth Play Poker Like the Pros 2003 2.5 Beginner’s guide to Hold ‘Em (mostly Limit), Limit Omaha, and Seven-Card Stud; see review
John Wenzel The Everything Texas Hold’em Book 2006 2.0 More about Limit than No Limit Hold ‘Em; see review
Richard D. Harroch and Lou Krieger Poker for Dummies 2003 2.0 Mostly about Limit poker; see review
Dennis Purdy Illustrated Guide to Texas Hold’Em 2005 1.5 Misguided attempt at teaching Limit Hold ‘Em through repetitive sample hands; see review.
Ken Warren Winner’s Guide to Texas Hold’Em Poker 1996 1.5 More about Limit than No Limit Hold ‘Em; includes some seriously dubious advice
Beginner to Intermediate Daniel Negreanu Power Hold’em Strategy 2008 3.5 Mostly about small ball but also covers everything from a beginner’s tournament strategy to high stake cash games
Matt Maroon Winning Texas Hold’Em 2005 3.0 Thorough introduction to poker focusing on Limit Hold ‘Em; see review.
Doyle Brunson Online Poker 2005 1.5 Introduction to online poker as an attempt to get you play on Doyle’s Room; see review.
Intermediate Scott Fischman Online Ace 2006 4.0 Comprehensive introduction to online poker with intermediate strategy advice; see review.
Tom McEvoy Tournament Poker 2004 3.5 Detailed, tight approach to playing tournaments in 11 poker variants; see review.
Ed Miller Small Stakes No-Limit Hold’em 2010 3.0 How to beat $1/$2, 6-max online games (roughly $2/$5 live games)
Mike Caro Caro’s Most Profitable Hold ’em Advice 2007 3.0 A hodgepodge of advice (albeit a little too much about Limit Hold ‘Em)
Doyle Brunson Doyle Brunson’s Super System 2 2005 3.0 Update to the classic with lots of entirely new material (rate higher if you play the other games)
Tom McEvoy and T.J. Cloutier Championship No-Limit & Pot-Limit Hold’em 2003 3.0 Thorough, albeit very tight, strategy advice for tournaments, especially deep-stack ones; see review.
Gus Hansen Every Hand Revealed 2008 2.5 The thought process of a top pro as he goes through a large, big buy-in tournament
Erick Lindgren Making the Final Table 2005 2.5 Solid, wide-ranging advice in the context of the World Poker Tour; see review.
Stewart Reuben and Bob Ciaffone Pot-Limit & No-Limit Poker 2004 2.5 One of the few books that covers Pot-Limit Hold ‘Em
Doyle Brunson Doyle Brunson’s Super System 1979 2.5 The first significant Texas Hold ‘Em book (covers other poker variants). See review.
Intermediate to Advanced Doug Hull Poker Plays You Can Use 2013 4.5 Very well organized and immediately useful; see review
Dan Harrington and Bill Robertie Harrington on Hold ’em, Volume I 2004 4.5 Thorough explanation of M and how it should affect your play; see review
Dan Harrington and Bill Robertie Harrington on Hold ’em, Volume II 2005 4.5 Same as above for later stages in a tournament; see review
David Sklansky and Ed Miller No Limit Hold ‘Em Theory and Practice 2006 4.0 Excellent advice, both general and specific; see review
Dan Harrington and Bill Robertie Harrington on Hold ’em, Volume III 2006 2.5 Exercises and random tidbits only; see review
Advanced David Sklansky Tournament Poker for Advanced Players 2007 4.0 How to handle all the facets of a tournament, including theory and practice
Lee Nelson, Tysen Streib, and Steven Heston Kill Everyone 2007 4.0 A simple but effective, aggressive tournament strategy; see review
Arnold Snyder The Poker Tournament Formula 2 2008 3.5 Chip utility (similar to M) and how to use it during tournaments
Collin Moshman Heads-Up No-Limit Hold ‘Em 2008 3.5 Thorough explanation of how to play heads-up
David Sklansky and Mason Malmuth Hold ’em Poker for Advanced Players 1999 2.5 Good general advice, but specific information is about Limit Hold ‘Em
Advanced to Expert Ed Miller Playing the Player 2012 4.0 Specific plays that can be used against each major type of player
Eric Lynch, Jon Van Fleet, and Jon Turner Winning Poker Tournaments One Hand at a Time, Vol. 1 2008 3.5 Like Every Hand Revealed but with three online pros; 4.0 with the index provided in the review
Expert Ed Miller How To Read Hands At No-Limit Hold’em 2011 4.0 Putting your opponents on hand ranges
Tony Guerrera Killer Poker By the Numbers 2007 3.5 Highly mathematical; teaches you a process for calculating EV but leaves you lots of work to do

Tells

Author[s] Book Year Rating Notes
Zachary Elwood Verbal Poker Tells 2012 4.5 A master’s thesis on tells based on a lot of real-word research; see review
Zachary Elwood Reading Poker Tells 2012 4.0 Categorizes tells into “waiting-for-action”, “during-action”, and “post-bet”; see review
Randy Burgess and Carl Baldassarre Ultimate Guide to Poker Tells 2006 3.5 Categorizes players into five stages of tell usage; see review
Joe Navarro Read ‘Em and Reap 2006 3.0 Good list of tells, but how do you know when a tell is real or fake? See review
James A. McKenna, Ph.D. Beyond Tells 2005 3.0 Psychoanalysis of various personality types and how that applies to their poker styles; see review
Mike Caro Caro’s Book of Poker Tells 2003 3.0 26 tells, but how do you know when a tell is real or fake? See review

History/Other

Author[s] Book Year Rating Notes
Steve Rosenbloom Best Hand I Ever Played 2005 4.0 Wide variety of entertaining and educational stories from 52 poker pros; see review.
James McManus Positively Fifth Street 2003 4.0 Very well written account of the author’s journey to and through the 2000 WSOP Main Event; see review.
Jonathan Grotenstein and Storms Reback All In 2005 3.5 Significant history of the World Series of Poker through 2004
Annie Duke How I Raised, Folded, Bluffed, Flirted, Cursed, and Won Millions at the WSOP 2005 3.5 Annie Duke’s autobiography plus a few playing tips; see review.
Phil Hellmuth Bad Beats and Lucky Draws 2004 3.5 Almost 100 important and interesting hands from 1974 to 2004; see review.
James McManus Cowboys Full – The Story of Poker 2009 3.0 Excellent history of poker (not just Hold ‘Em)
Bernard Lee The Final Table Volume I: Poker Columns from the Boston Herald: 2005-2006 2008 3.0 Collection of the poker pro’s newspaper columns
Michael Craig The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King 2005 3.0 Fascinating insider’s account of super highest stakes poker; see review.
Ron Rose Poker Aces: The Stars of Tournament Poker 2004 3.0 Brief biographies and stories from a wide range of poker pros around the world; see review.
Amarillo Slim Preston and Greg Dinkin Amarillo Slim in a World of Fat People 2003 3.0 Amarillo Slim’s autobiography, including the 1972 WSOP Main Event and lots of prop bets. See review
Andy Bellin Poker Nation 2002 3.0 A brief history of poker and the WSOP, and random stories of poker around the U.S.; see review.
Anthony Holden Big Deal 1990 3.0 A writer spends a year playing poker, including the 1988 and 1989 WSOP Main Events. See review
Al Alvarez The Biggest Game in Town 1983 3.0 The story of the 1981 World Series of Poker Main Event
Mike Caro Bobby Baldwin’s Winning Poker Secrets 1979 3.0 Bobby Baldwin’s biography (3.5 rating) and some poker playing tips (2.0 rating). See review
Pat Walsh How to Win the World Series of Poker (or Not) 2006 2.5 Humorous look at poker from very low buyin home games to the World Series of Poker Main Event; see review.
Richard Sparks Diary of a Mad Poker Player 2005 2.5 Mix of poker history, strategy, and personal anecdotes; see review.
Barry Greenstein Ace on the River 2005 2.5 High level advice for more serious poker players
Dana Smith, Tom McEvoy, and Ralph Wheeler Championship Table 2009 2.5 Basic facts about each WSOP Main Event from 1970 to 2008; not as good as All In
Chris Moneymaker and Daniel Paisner Moneymaker 2005 2.5 The story of the amateur who sparked the poker boom2
Byron Wolford and Dana Smith Cowboys, Gamblers and Hustlers: The True Adventures of a Rodeo Champion and Poker Legend 2002 2.5 Stories from the early days of rodeo and poker. See review
Doyle Brunson Poker Wisdom of a Champion 1984 2.5 Entertaining stories from poker’s Road Gamblers era plus some high-level playing advice. See review
David Apostolico Tournament Poker and the Art of War 2005 2.0 Apt analogies between war and poker but very repetitive and high-level only; see review.
Larry Phillips The Tao of Poker 2003 2.0 Solid, high level advice that’s applicable to any poker variety but has no depth; see review.
Larry W. Phillips Zen and the Art of Poker: Timeless Secrets to Transform Your Game 1999 1.5 High-level playing advice based on Zen philosophy. See review

[II] “Wow. You’ve read all of those?”

[SS] “Sure have. Probably need to reread most of them though.”

[II] “Well, if you could bring the two poker tells books next time, I think those would be a good change of pace.”

[SS] “Sorry, those are already out on loan. Can you pick something else?”

[II] “Um, how about No Limit Hold ‘Em Theory and Practice then. That’s the easiest 4-star book on your list.”

[SS] “Sklansky. You got it.”

Footnotes:

  1. Updates: May 22, 2018: added McEvoy and Cloutier’s “Championship No-Limit & Pot-Limit Hold’em”, Bellin’s “Poker Nation”, McManus’s “Positively Fifth Street”, Phillips’s “The Tao of Poker”, Hellmuth’s “Bad Beats and Lucky Draws”, Krieger’s “The Poker Players Bible”, Gordon and Grotenstein’s “Poker: The Real Deal”, McEvoy’s “Tournament Poker”, “Amarillo Slim’s Play Poker to Win”, Craig’s “The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King”, Duke’s “How I Raised, Folded, Bluffed, Flirted, Cursed, and Won Millions at the WSOP”, Lindgren’s “Making the Final Table”, Maroon’s “Winning Texas Hold’Em”, Purdy’s “Illustrated Guide to Texas Hold’Em”, Apostolico’s “Tournament Poker and the Art of War”, Rose’s “Poker Aces: The Stars of Tournament Poker”, Rosenbloom’s “Best Hand I Ever Played”, Brunson’s “Online Poker”, Fischman’s “Online Ace”, Sparks’s “Diary of a Mad Poker Player”, and Walsh’s “How to Win the World Series of Poker (or Not)”.

    May 15, 2017: added Doyle Brunson’s Super System, Bobby Baldwin’s Winning Poker Secrets, Poker Wisdom of a Champion, Big Deal, Zen and the Art of Poker, Poker for Dummies, Play Poker Like the Pros, Cowboys, Gamblers and Hustlers, Amarillo Slim in a World of Fat People, and McKenna’s “Beyond Tells”, Elwood’s “Verbal Poker Tells”, and Nelson, Streib, and Heston’s “Kill Everyone”.

    January 8, 2015: added Elwood’s “Reading Poker Tells” and Burgess/Baldassarre’s “Ultimate Guide to Poker Tells”.

  2. Although the subtitle is “How an amateur poker player turned $40 into $2.5 million at the World Series of Poker”, Moneymaker’s initial buy-in was actually $86.

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Rounders First Hand

[RR] Roderick the Rock reported back to Al the Almost, “I finally got around to watching Rounders1 again, and I definitely enjoyed it more the second time around, even though I knew how it would end. Maybe it’s because I know how to play Hold ‘Em better now.”

[AA] “Watch it a couple dozen more times like I have, then you can really understand its brilliance”, Al insisted.

[RR] “What I certainly appreciate more now then fifteen years ago was that the poker hands weren’t over-the-top straight flush vs. four Aces hands like other in most other movies.”2

[AA] “Yep, the biggest hand they showed was only a full house. Realistic.”

[RR] “That first hand against Teddy KGB seemed far-fetched to me when I saw it in the movie theater, but now I realize that it was just an unavoidable cooler.”

[AA] “Zeebo’s Theorem.3 Especially four-handed, there’s no way Mike can fold his full house. With A♣9♣, he raised from the button preflop and got called by Teddy in the big blind. Overbet his top two pair on the A♠9♠8♣ flop to make it look like a continuation bet and steal attempt. Slowplayed by checking behind on the 9♥ turn, which gave him his boat. And then bet and reraised all in on the harmless 3♠ river, which he hoped gave Teddy a flush.”

[RR] “The betting was too big — double reverse psychology or whatnot — but there’s no way to get away from a big loss there… unless he’s spotted a reliable tell.”

[AA] “Ah yes, the tell. People complained that no pro-caliber poker player would have such a blatant tell, but we’ll call that artistic license. If all Teddy did was twitch his nose, it would have been too subtle for most viewers to notice. I forgive them for the exaggeration.”

[RR] “What was far worse than the tell was Mike showing off his cards when he could have mucked them after folding because of the tell.”

[AA] “Yeah, laying down two pairs on the flop heads-up is pretty extreme. He might as well have admitted that he’d spotted the Oreo-eating tell, and Teddy didn’t take long to figure that out and smash his cookie rack against the wall. But Mike’s narration explains his rationale, claiming that the tilt factor was worth more than the tell.”

[RR] “Except that a good poker player shouldn’t be that easy to unhinge.”

[AA] “Maybe Mike expected Teddy to realize it out on his own anyway at some point. Rather than depending on a tell that could become unreliable and cost him a lot of money, he cashed it in for what he could get right then and there.”

Footnotes:

  1. Al and Rod previously discussed Rounders in The Basics of Texas Hold ‘Em.
  2. For example, The Most Famous Hold ‘Em Hand.
  3. See the previous discussion of Zeebo’s Theorem.

Related Links:

Flash replayer version of the full house hand (estimated chip stacks)

Full Tilt Poker formatted version, suitable for inputting into various poker analysis tools

Full Tilt Poker Game #0000000022: Table Teddy KGB's Place - 100/200 - No Limit Hold'em - 00:00:01 EDT - 1998/09/11
Seat 1: McDermott (50,500)
Seat 2: Player3 (21,000)
Seat 3: KGB (62,500)
Seat 4: Player4 (16,000)
Player3 posts the small blind of 100
KGB posts the big blind of 200
The button is in seat #1
*** HOLE CARDS ***
Dealt to McDermott [Ac 9c]
Player4 folds
McDermott raises to 500
Player3 folds
KGB calls 300
*** FLOP *** [As 9s 8c]
KGB checks
McDermott bets 2,000
KGB calls 2,000
*** TURN *** [As 9s 8c] [9h]
KGB checks
McDermott checks
*** RIVER *** [As 9s 8c 9h] [3s]
KGB bets 15,000
McDermott raises to 48,000, and is all in
KGB calls 33,000
*** SHOW DOWN ***
McDermott shows [Ac 9c] full house, Nines over Aces
KGB shows [Ad Ah] full house, Aces over Nines
KGB wins the pot (101,100) with full house, Aces over Nines
*** SUMMARY ***
Total pot 101,100 | Rake 0
Board: [As 9s 8c 9h 3s]
Seat 1: McDermott (big blind) showed [Ac 9c] and lost with full house, Nines over Aces
Seat 2: Player3 didn't bet (folded)
Seat 3: KGB (button) showed [Ac 6h] and won (101,100) with full house, Aces over Nines
Seat 4: Player4 (small blind) didn't bet (folded)

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